SAN FRANCISCO – The Champions Tour season is a long, winding road that stretches from Hawaii to the eastern shore of Florida, from the La belle Province of Quebec to the Canadian plains of Alberta, and to one of the hallowed sites of golf in Great Britain.
And now the Champions Tour is here, at TPC Harding Park, for the 26th and final event of 2013, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
For Kenny Perry, all that’s left of the meandering journey is a zip line to the finish. In the race to the Charles Schwab Cup, Perry is behind the steering wheel. He put himself there largely during a two-tournament mid-summer run that saw him win back-to-back major championships at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship and the U.S. Senior Open. The victories earned double points for Perry, and sent him soaring to the top of the list, and he hasn’t looked back.
Perry added his third victory of 2013 last week at the AT&T Championship. He defeated Bernhard Langer in a playoff and in the process answered just about every question asked of him. Perry added 285 points to his haul in San Antonio to widen his lead to 612 points over Langer, the only other man with a remote chance for the Champions Tour’s biggest prize.
Langer must win this week at TPC Harding Park to have a shot at the Charles Schwab Cup and the $1 million annuity that goes with it. The winner will receive 880 points and Langer needs them all, plus some help. Since last place in the elite 30-player field is worth 48 points, Perry’s lead is effectively 660 points.
Here’s the scenario: Perry will win the Charles Schwab Cup with a solo fifth-place finish, even if Langer wins. If Langer wins this week and Perry finishes in a five-way tie for fourth or a two-way tie for fifth, Langer wrestles away the title. If Langer doesn’t win, all Perry needs is to finish last in the field.
What that means is that the situation isn’t as dire for Langer’s hopes as it might appear to have been. He is certainly capable of winning and Perry can play a very nice tournament, finish top 10 but not top five.
That’s what made the results in San Antonio so enticing, and both men knew it.
“It was a pretty neat scenario, wasn’t it?” Perry said. “It’s funny how the stars aligned to get one and two in the Cup going to a playoff. You couldn’t script it any better than that.
“I know last week was pivotal. But my job is not over. (Langer) is very motivated. I’m very motivated. For me, to win the Charles Schwab Cup would be the ultimate accomplishment. It’s a trophy we all shoot for. It’s been a long year, 26 events. I need to figure out a way to finish in the top five this week. I cannot relax. I cannot get passive. I still have to try to win the tournament.”
Perry and Langer will be central to the plot again but there will be plenty at stake for others in the elite 30-player field. A $1 million annuity goes to the winner of the season-long Charles Schwab Cup race. But there is also a significant payoff for Nos. 2-5. The runner-up will earn a $500,000 bonus, with $300,000 going to the third-place finisher, $200,000 to fourth and $100,000 to fifth.
The Charles Schwab Cup Championship has been held at venerable TPC Harding Park, opened in 1925, twice before in 2010 and 2011. TPC Harding Park also was host to the 2009 Presidents Cup and the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship won by Tiger Woods.
With lift clean and place rules in effect for all four rounds in 2010, the 30-player field averaged 69.767 on the par 71 layout. John Cook won with a 17-under total and 21 players finished under-par. In 2011, Jay Don Blake’s victory in the tournament paved the way for Tom Lehman to win the first of his back-to-back Charles Schwab Cup titles. Blake shot 8-under and only 14 players were under par.
At TPC Harding Park, Perry has plenty going for him in conditions that promise to be ideal. His approach this week is dictated by the circumstances – and the leaderboards.
“I’ve been in the wait-and-see mode,” Perry said “I look up and see Bernhard’s name up there every week. The wait-and-see mode has put me in the attack mode. I wanted to play defense but that doesn’t work out here. If you’re not on the offense you’re going to get lapped by everybody. I do have the luxury of having 28 guys be my blockers. If I can get another player to get hot and win the tournament, they win it for me as well. I will be looking and paying attention but I also know I need to step my game up, too, and top five it this week.”
There is no wait-and-see in Langer’s vernacular this week on a golf course he likes and in a tournament that is among his favorites.
“I have to be aggressive from the get-go,” Langer said “I have to hit a lot of good shots and make putts. I have to be smart aggressive.”